For a brief time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Manchester was the focus of the music world. From the drab English city had sprung a colorful blending of acid beats from the years just immediately prior and jangly guitars from ‘60s antecedents, swirled in an ecstasy-coated in haze. At the epicenter of this scene and sound were the Happy Monday, a band of merry pranksters whose collective ambition was only outweighed by its intake of illicit substances. Along with a handful of contemporaries, most notably the Stone Roses, the Mondays came to define this short-lived period.
Of course, being inexorably tied to a time and place doesn’t bode well for a band’s lasting power, and the Mondays’ music hasn’t aged too well. While they seemingly peaked both creatively and commercially with Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, the groggy jangle of its predecessor, Bummed, has wound up standing the test of time better than that party people soundtrack. When the band reformed a couple years back, then, it seemed almost unnecessary, though admittedly their stature in their homeland was much greater than here in the States. Still, did anyone need to see a 40-year-old man (Fez, the band’s non-musical jester/dancer) play the fool or a robustly sober Shaun Ryder try to excite the same reactions? The band didn’t exactly bow out gracefully (Yes, Please) so why should anyone still care?
However ephemeral the Happy Mondays were, there was a time when they were the best band in the world. That time was 1990, and Call the Cops, a new DVD, captures the band at their height making their first sojourn to America for a brief tour. It’s stated early on in the film that the band was playing to thousands in England in contrast to the 500-some capacity clubs that made up this tour, and at one point Ryder expresses the desire to return as giant rock stars. If memory serves, the band did return to arenas, but as openers for Jane’s Addiction.
Unfortunately, as a stroll down memory lane, Call the Cops is a poor one. The doc lacks basic direction, with hardly a narrative thread to be found. Aside from obvious signs that they are in Chicago and New York, and a waving Canadian flag to denote their to that country, it’s hard to tell where the trek has taken them. Moreover, the concert footage was obviously taken from just a few of the dates. And aside from some random comments from uncredited persons, there’s little in the way of commentary or context. Watching the band play “Rave On” and “Wrote for Luck” is still compelling, and the film might have been better as simply a straightforward live tape. But it’s convoluted with random backstage shots and far too brief interviews with the band on the bus. It does little to capture the time or the place, instead merely throwing in performances of 10 songs among lots of flotsam and jetsam. The Mondays’ flame has dwindled, and Call the Cops does little to rekindle it.